Forget trying to imitate Santa this Christmas; try some ‘biomimicry’ instead!

Posted: 28/11/2017

Christmas/New Year means precious ‘time out’ for many people.  Whether or not these occasions are part of your religious or cultural traditions, the golden combination of summer and public holidays means that many Australians will be heading for the beach, the bush or the backyard during this time. Or maybe just the bean bag on the balcony!

Whatever your destination, this is a season when people in the Southern hemisphere often spend time in the great outdoors. Whether you are catching up with friends, navigating family dynamics, or spending time alone at Christmas—nature offers us solace and renewal. Whatever may be going on in our human world, we can look for opportunities to nourish ourselves by absorbing ourselves in nature’s beauty, power and ingenuity of design.

Since the dawn of human history, spending time in nature has healed and invigorated the human spirit, and inspired our creativity. And don’t think that it is only the romantic poets with their hosts of golden daffodils. Nature offers her beauty and inspiration to all.

You may choose unwind to the sound of the ocean, savour the summer fruit, day-dream in a shady spot, imagine shapes in the play of clouds in the sky, or become absorbed in the silence while overlooking a scene from a high vantage point. Or if silence is not your thing and you prefer the extremes of noise, the drone of cicadas measured at 120 decibels in the Australian bush, which approaches the threshold of human pain, will do the trick nicely!

So forget trying to imitate Santa this Christmas—try some ‘biomimicry’ instead! Biomimicry (or ‘biodesign’ as it is also called) is a rapidly growing but age-old science where the characteristics of the natural world are studied to discover solutions to human challenges, including technical problems. Here are just a few examples:

  • Velcro was invented in 1941 by George de Mestral, a Swiss engineer who studied the burrs that clung to the fur of his dog. He noticed tiny hooks at the end of each spine that easily caught on looped or curled fibres such as hair or clothing.
  • The shape and movement of the wings of the bumble bee gave important clues for helicopter flight.
  • Studies of the reflection of light by the scales on the wings of swallowtail butterflies have led to greater efficiencies in light-emitting diodes.
  • Studies of the way jellyfish move are contributing to designs that use wave and wind propulsion to create clean energy sources, and even to move tiny medical instruments around the bloodstream.

The Nature of Strengths card set honours this rich tradition of drawing inspiration from nature—not so much for solving technical problems, but for developing the resilience we need to meet the challenges of everyday life.

Each of the 28 cards features a beautiful watercolour painting of an animal, insect or plant, in the style of an 18th century naturalist’s notebook. A characteristic of that creature or plant is described, and the card is given a related title such as Changing Direction, Holding On, Letting Go, Tuning In, Standing Solid. Think of how useful these strengths are in our own lives! This is a beautiful and very different tool for teachers, counsellors, family and youth workers, mentors, team-builders and wellbeing professionals—anyone who works with others to build strengths and resilience—especially nature lovers.

By Karen Bedford

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